Should Best Lip-Sync Be a New Grammy Category?

There are understandable reasons for lip-syncing—sound quality, predictability, choreography—but in the end, lip-syncing is a kind of lie.

| Orawan Gardner

I imagine that one day, I will sit down with my grandchildren and tell them about the before-times, when people used to sing live at concerts. “The person on the cover of the album was the same person whose voice you heard on that album, and then that voice was the same voice that you heard come directly from their actual vocal chords on stage! And all of the instruments were really there, and people really played them!” The children will stare at me, wide-eyed, and I will think I have impressed them at last before realizing that they’re just plugged into a riveting game of virtual octopush.

There are understandable reasons for lip-syncing—sound quality, predictability, choreography—but in the end, lip-syncing is a kind of lie. Artists advertise one thing: a performance that features live singing—and deliver another: a performance that simulates live singing. Do we turn a blind eye for the sake of a good show? Is authenticity dead? Will someone please actually invent virtual octopush?

I don’t know the answers to these important questions, but I do have some schadenfreude-inducing lip-syncing examples for you to enjoy, including three by artists nominated for Grammys this year.

Milli Vanilli: No lip-sync list would be complete without Milli Vanilli. In 1989, the group was caught lip-syncing at a live show when their pre-recorded track started skipping. The artists ran off stage in embarrassment. It was revealed afterwards that they had not sung on their studio album All or Nothing either, instead taking credit for other singers’ performances. As a result of media pressure following these revelations, the group’s Grammy award was withdrawn and a class-action lawsuit settlement refunded consumers who had purchased concert tickets, cassettes, records, or CDs.
Ashlee Simpson's classic SNL lip-sync fail.
This is actually an example of a band taking a stand against lip-syncing. Muse, forced to lip-sync on an Italian TV show to a pre-recorded performance, decided to protest. All the band members switched instruments and did their worst.
Katy Perry got caught in 2011 pretending to play the recorder. She is nominated for Best Pop Solo Performance at the Grammys this year.
Beyoncé: Beyoncé lip-synced to a pre-recorded track at President Obama’s inauguration. She is nominated for Best Traditional R&B Performance at the Grammys this year. In contrast to the public outrage with the Milli Vanilli scandal, Beyoncé came away with little damage to her reputation.  Aretha Franklin, who sang at the inauguration in 2009, even said that "I thought it was really funny, but she did a beautiful job with the pre-record ... next time I'll probably do the same."

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Orawan Gardner

Orawan was formerly a project associate who produced written and visual content for Orawan was an AmeriCorps VISTA member and studied film at Vassar College, where she received her B.A.

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